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Blocked Or Botched: Illegal Either Way

LegislationNet NeutralityOn Saturday, the Wall Street Journal took a look at a recent incident involving Cox customers, Criagslist, and net neutrality.

A recent incident may illuminate the controversy for those wondering what both sides are after. Several weeks ago, users of Cox Communications’ broadband Internet service found that they could no longer access, the free classifieds site. Some bloggers immediately smelled a rat — Cox’s parent company also owns newspapers, which compete with Craigslist for classified ads.

The article goes on to point out that despite claims by net neutrality proponents regarding blocking and competitive practices, the root cause of the blockage was software. A new application designed to safeguard users inadvertently blocked Craigslist. (While I’m not familiar with the details on this, I suspect this was a software intended to prevent phishing and block sites known to be scams, virus triggers, etc).

Under a net neutrality regime, that distinction would not have mattered. Regardless of the reason for the outage, Cox would be fined, and in some of the more ridiculous legislation, it’s executives would be punishable by time in jail.

Craigslist creator Craig Newmark (who is in favor of net neutrality) even came to Cox’s defense on his blog.

“The whole thing was exacerbated by folks talking about Net neutrality,” adding for good measure: “None of this was deliberate” by Cox.

This is just yet another reason why codifying a concept as vague as net neutrality is a terrible idea. The first reason, as I have railed on repeatedly, is economic. The big content providers don’t want to pay, they want you to. The WSJ piece also took that point and ran.

[Larry Darby, an economist with the American Consumer Institute] cites the newspaper industry — in which the costs of providing news are split between readers and advertisers — as an example of the kind of “multisided market” that can develop when businesses are free to charge whoever is most willing to pay. Mr. Darby’s conclusion is that barring network operators from charging for value-added services would be bad for consumers. “The practice of ‘end users only paying’ evolved in, and was suitable for, the world of . . . voice message only technology,” Mr. Darby writes. “But, Congress should not lock that business model into a market for which it is ill-suited — and certainly should not do so on grounds that consumer welfare is thereby enhanced.”

The Senate takes up the markup of S 2686 tomorrow. Among a host of issues to be considered are a score of net neutrality amendments. If the Senate has more sense than I have ever given them credit for, they’ll bat those back to the Stone Age.

(Disclaimer: While I work for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, this post should in no way be construed as an official position of the Association. Thoughts in this space are mine and mine alone and do not reflect the views of my employer.)

Written by Michael Turk